Monday, March 04, 2013

Just a Theory ... Again (Sigh)

So, the Ohio Supreme Court is finally hearing the case of that teacher who pushed creationism and Christianity, since all the lower courts upheld his being fired.

Here's the most disheartening thing of all.
Justices appeared perplexed, at times irritated, about what lawyers believed was the legal issue before them.

Justice Paul Pfeifer was incredulous when Mr. Smith argued that Mr. Freshwater's evolution class wouldn't have been covered under the school district's controversial-issues policy.

"So there's nothing controversial about evolution," he said. "It is a theory, isn't it?"
Yes, Mr Justice, it is. Like gravity and germs and relativity and heliocentrism...

As they say at Not Just a Theory:
In everyday use, theory means a guess or a hunch, something that maybe needs proof. In science, a theory is not a guess, not a hunch. It's a well-substantiated, well-supported, well-documented explanation for our observations. It ties together all the facts about something, providing an explanation that fits all the observations and can be used to make predictions. In science, theory is the ultimate goal, the explanation. It's as close to proven as anything in science can be.

Some people think that in science, you have a theory, and once it's proven, it becomes a law. That's not how it works. In science, we collect facts, or observations, we use laws to describe them, and a theory to explain them. You don't promote a theory to a law by proving it. A theory never becomes a law.

This bears repeating. A theory never becomes a law. In fact, if there was a hierarchy of science, theories would be higher than laws. There is nothing higher, or better, than a theory. Laws describe things, theories explain them. An example will help you to understand this. There's a law of gravity, which is the description of gravity. It basically says that if you let go of something it'll fall. It doesn't say why. Then there's the theory of gravity, which is an attempt to explain why. Actually, Newton's Theory of Gravity did a pretty good job, but Einstein's Theory of Relativity does a better job of explaining it. These explanations are called theories, and will always be theories. They can't be changed into laws, because laws are different things. Laws describe, and theories explain.

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